The Cult of Beauty: Wellcome Collection explores more inclusive definitions of beauty

The Cult of Beauty is a free exhibition at Wellcome Collection in London, exploring different ideas about beauty in the past, present and future. The exhibition is open until 28 April 2024.

Two people stand looking at two full body human sculptures at The Cult of Beauty Exhibition. One is a white sculpture with no arms and the other is bronze. Both sculptures have no clothes on. In the background of the photo there are pink curtains hiding the rest of the exhibition.
The Cult of Beauty, Wellcome Collection, Benjamin Gilbert, 2023.

With over 200 artworks and objects, from historical make-up tools, paintings and films to sculptures and immersive installations, you are invited to consider the complex ideas and beliefs that inform our perception of beauty and reflect on more inclusive definitions of it .

The exhibition is divided into three sections: The Ideals of Beauty, The Industry of Beauty and Subverting Beauty. As you move through the exhibition you are invited to widen your understanding of beauty beyond the binaries of beautiful or ugly, natural or artificial, physical or digital.

In making this exhibition Wellcome Collection’s aim has been to create an immersive, inclusive and accessible space where all visitors can explore and feel welcome. Wellcome Collection believes that accessible design and interpretation improve the experience for all visitors. When making The Cult of Beauty, they wanted to create opportunities for visitors to experience art and objects with all their senses. When making The Cult of Beauty, the focus remained on offering a range of sensory experiences to visitors while exploring art and objects featured in the exhibition.

One of the artworks, called Beauty Sensorium, is an immersive installation where the artists have recreated beauty products that were made by women during the 1400s. You are encouraged to explore the space by listening to the sounds of chopping and cooking, touching the handmade glass jars and ceramic tiles, and smelling the aromas rosewater and incense  Together they make you feel like you are in a Renaissance kitchen, and invite you to imagine what the lives of these women might have been like during that period.

A young girl with her hair tied up looking at part of the exhibition.
The Cult of Beauty, Wellcome Collection, Benjamin Gilbert, 2023.

The Cult of Beauty includes a Digital Guide with 17 interaction points. The guide includes audio description, videos in British Sign Language (BSL), and the exhibition texts in large print. Here, you can hear from curators, artists and people with lived and professional expertise as they talk about some the key objects, artworks and ideas in the exhibition. You can access the Digital Guide on the website here.

One of the highlights on the Digital Guide is a conversation between Kimberley Burrows, an artist who is blind, and cosmetic scientist Gabriela Daniels. This audio stop describes a display of tactile objects, accessible beauty products such as make-up brushes and packaging which you are invited to touch. Kimberly and Gabriela talk about the experience of using make-up as a blind person as well as  some of the products on display. 

Two women stand discussing a part of the exhibition. There are blue and pink curtains in the background separating them from the rest of the exhibition.
The Cult of Beauty, Wellcome Collection, Benjamin Gilbert, 2023.

While the exhibition is open until the 28 April, Wellcome Collection is running a series of Lights Up and Relaxed Viewing events for visitors. 

At a Lights Up session the lights in the gallery will have brighter and more consistent lighting, making the objects easier to see. There will also be audio-described tours which you can book in advance.

At a Relaxed Opening, there will be fewer people in the gallery and brighter light levels. Sensory equipment, such as ear defenders and tinted glasses, will also be available and there will be more cushions in the gallery. You’ll find comfortable seating, cushions and mats, and you can use their Chill-Out Room if you want to lie down or relax.

You can find out more about these events here.

While visiting The Cult of Beauty, you might also enjoy roaming around Wellcome Collection’s free Being Human gallery. It explores what it means to be human in the 21st century and reflects our hopes and fears about new forms of medical knowledge as well as our changing relationships with ourselves, each other and the world.

Featuring 50 artworks and objects, the gallery is divided into four sections: Genetics, Minds & Bodies, Infection, and Environmental Breakdown. 

Don’t miss your chance to explore Wellcome Collection’s free exhibition, The Cult of Beauty. If you would like more information about Wellcome Collection, and how to visit, you can find out more on their website.

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